O'REILLY ASCOT CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE -- IT'S NOT OVER YET... TULSA, Okla. (October 8, 2008) -- True, Jason Johnson carries a 91-point O'Reilly American Sprint Cars on Tour National points lead into this weekend's Inaugural Cowtown Sprint Nationals...
O'REILLY ASCOT CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE -- IT'S NOT OVER YET...
TULSA, Okla. (October 8, 2008) -- True, Jason Johnson carries a 91-point O'Reilly American Sprint Cars on Tour National points lead into this weekend's Inaugural Cowtown Sprint Nationals near Fort Worth, TX.
But don't fill the Louisiana racer's name in on that $50,000 championship check just yet. There's still some business to be taken care of.
And "The Ragin' Cajun" is well aware of that, echoing those sentiments during a Labor Day weekend of Gulf South domination along the Texas coast. "We haven't got it yet, we've still got to get through a few nights."
This weekend's Cowtown Speedway double along with next weekend's Devil's Bowl Winter Nationals across the DFW Metroplex in Mesquite both offer up opportunities of varying degrees of good and bad.
In fact, the last feature that "The Ragin' Cajun" missed in series action came during the opening night of the Devil's Bowl Spring Nationals this March, when Johnson used a provisional to start the main event.
That put Johnson in a hole from the outset, one that he spent several months digging his way out of. After runner-up ASCoT honors over each of the past two years, Johnson finally took the series points lead away from Gary Wright following a DNF for "The Texan" during Speedweek at Texarkana in July.And when a sheared distributor pin forced Wright to use a provisional three nights later, Johnson suddenly had some breathing room.It's that breathing room that Johnson takes into the final three weekends of the season that culminate on October 23-25 with I-30 Speedway's 21st Annual Short Track Nationals in Little Rock, AR, a marquee event that offers up $15,000 to win and $2,100 to start.
But it starts this weekend atop Cowtown Speedway's treacherous high banks. The high speeds and close quarters combine to create some precarious predicaments, particularly for those with an eye on a handsome year-end points fund payout.
And to complicate matters for Jason Johnson, he's never turned a lap at Cowtown Speedway. While the likes of Jason Johnson, Gary Wright and Wayne Johnson among others have earned their positions at the top of the Sprint Car charts by succeeding in unfamiliar territory, it's still a factor that can rear its ugly head at any time.And one mistake over the next couple of weekends could change the entire complexion of the ASCoT championship points race. Missing one feature would erase Johnson's breathing room over Wright and revert the $50,000 chase to neck-and-neck status.
New Ground -- While both Jason Johnson and Wayne Johnson (ranked first and third in points, respectively) will be taking to Cowtown for the first time, they're not that far behind on the track experience curve as the bulk of the top ten in points have limited time atop the Cowtown clay.
Gary Wright and Kenneth Walker each have Sprint Car start at Cowtown, with Zach Chappell, Garry Lee Maier and Nick Smith each making a pair of starts. Also, Gary Taylor has a pair of Sooner Region starts this season to go along with last year's November Sprint Shootout appearance.
Those with the most Cowtown experience are Travis Rilat and Eric Baldaccini. Rilat has spread 13 Cowtown starts over the past several seasons, while leading Rookie shoe Baldaccini spent a couple of seasons primarily in Cowtown weekly action before moving on to the Regional ASCS circuits.
Rilat has enjoyed the most Cowtown success among current top ten contenders with four past feature wins. Nick Smith claimed a Sooner Region win at Cowtown last year, with Gary Taylor topping the Sooners at Cowtown this season.
Busy B4 -- Eric Baldaccini has been busy this year, racking up a total of 41 overall American Sprint Car Series starts. That's tops in ASCS starts amongst any driver in the nation, with 17-year-old Kathryne Minter next with 39 starts and then Zach Chappell with 34 starts.
The 20-year-old from Keller, TX, has taken in all 26 nights of ASCoT National action along with Jason Johnson, Gary Wright, Wayne Johnson, Zach Chappell, Garry Lee Maier and Kathryne Minter to rank sixth in National points while also mixing in 15 Regional starts as well. Eleven of those starts have been in Sooner Region competition, where Baldaccini holds down ninth in points.The current leader in the Brodix Rookie of the Year chase finished second to Sooner title contender Kolt Walker in his last Cowtown outing on August 23.
Sooner Title on the Line -- When Kolt Walker picked up that all-important first feature win on August 23 at Cowtown, it was versus the ASCS Gulf South Region. Now, the Graham, TX, shoe will try to overtake Tulsa's Brian McClelland this weekend for the American Bank of Oklahoma Sooner Region championship.
Gunning for a second series title, Cowtown has proven beneficial to McClelland this season. Holding just a seven point lead entering the weekend, McClelland has tallied 20 more points than Walker at Cowtown with finishes of 2nd, 10th and 3rd versus Walker's runs of 4th, 16th and 5th.
Recovering from a rough stretch over the middle portion of the season in which Walker tested too many top wings, Kolt was finished ahead of McClelland in four consecutive feature events to whittle the gap from 49 markers to seven.
A winner of three consecutive Sooner features in June and July, Oklahoma City's Joe Wood, Jr., is just 69 points out of the lead despite spotting his rivals a full night of action when he missed the season opener at Cowtown in April. Wood has finished second to Gary Taylor and Brad Welborn in successive Sooner Cowtown outings in May and July.
Glenpool, Oklahoma's Matt Covington has a strong hold on fourth in Sooner points. The 18-year-old has also taken in 16 of 26 possible National nights to rank 13th in ASCoT National points.
Flower Mound's Justin Melton enters the weekend just two points ahead of Lawton's Michael Brown in the battle for fifth in Sooner points.
Regional Champ in the House -- While the Sooner Region champion will be determined over the weekend, an already-crowned 2008 ASCS Regional champion will be in action as Jack Dover takes to the Cowtown high banks.
Crowned the ASCS Midwest Region champion on September 7, the 18-year-old from Springfield, NE, enjoyed his reign as the youngest champion in ASCS history for all of six spectacular days before 17-year-old Derrik Ortega of Albuquerque claimed such honors by putting the clamps on the ASCS Rocky Mountain Region title.
Nonetheless, Dover has cracked ASCS victory lane eight times during 2008, a total topped only by Jason Johnson (16 overall), wingless Canyon Region star Jeremy Sherman (11) and New Mexico's Johnny Herrera (9) and matched by Michigan's Dustin Daggett.
Dover will try to add at least a second National win this weekend to previous scores in Midwest, Northern Plains, Gulf South and Rocky Mountain Regional action.
Home Turf -- While Marvin Lough nipped Michael Lang for Cowtown Speedway championship honors, Kevin Ramey is the most likely "local" to knock off the traveling troops.
Among Ramey's 29 career Cowtown victories in the Sprint Car ranks is a $5,000 score last November, a winner's share that is matched in this weekend's Inaugural Cowtown Sprint Nationals as nearly $40,000 will be distributed among the ASCoT ranks.
There's a slight hitch though. While Ramey has reached Cowtown victory lane in weekly competition on four occasions this season, he is 0-for-22 in his 2008 ASCS starts. And a winless season in ASCS competition is something that hasn't happened since 2000, as Ramey has piled up a total of 32 wins during the seven-year stretch from 2001 to 2007.
Following an attempt to defend the turf just a stone's throw or two from his house this weekend, Ramey will get another pair of shots at Devil's Bowl next weekend. The Devil's Bowl clay oval is another joint that Ramey has enjoyed by taking several titles and racking up 49 career Sprint Car feature wins.
Along with Ramey and top Cowtown point finishers Lough and Lang, some other local contenders that could mix things up include George White (five Cowtown wins this season), Oklahoma teen Trey Robb (two Cowtown wins) and Johnny Miller (one Cowtown win).
Starting Over -- Following a 12th-place finish in the ASCS Knoxville Nationals finale on August 2, Jason Johnson will try to begin a new top-ten streak this weekend. That run outside the top ten due to a wheel problem ended Johnson's series record run of 44 top-ten feature finishes in a row in ASCS National Tour competition, eclipsing the mark of 40 established by Terry Gray a decade earlier.Both streaks ended in the Knoxville money race nearly ten years to the day. Gray's 40th top ten in a row came with a third-place Knoxville preliminary run on July 30, 1998, while Johnson's 44th consecutive top ten came with a Knoxville preliminary win on July 31, 2008.
With Johnson's streak severed, the current active streak of top tens belongs to Travis Rilat at eight in a row.
Other Streaks - Gary Wright, an ASCS National Tour runner-up finisher to Jason Martin three years ago in his only Cowtown Sprint Car start, carries streaks of 181 consecutive ASCS National Tour feature starts and 192 consecutive ASCS National Tour events competed-in into the weekend.JThe 181 features in a row is a record that extends with each additional start, while Wright is just 20 events shy of Toby Brown's record of 212 consecutive events competed in.
Momentum -- Since capturing the $10,000 winner's share in the ASCS Knoxville Nationals in August, Wayne Johnson has stayed busy. Following a third-place finish behind Shane Stewart and Roger Crockett in the ASCS Northwest Region's $10,092-to-win Fred Brownfield Memorial at Washington's Grays Harbor Raceway Park, the Oklahoma City shoe crossed the northeast border to pocket the $8,000 top prize at Ohsweken's Canadian Nationals on September 27.
The only driver to make each ASCoT feature event this year without the aid of a provisional, Wayne Johnson's title hopes took a hit with three DNF's including a pair of early exits during the final three legs of a pivotal Toyota Tundra ASCS Speedweek.
Wayne Johnson enters the weekend 140 points off of Jason Johnson's lead pace and just 30 points ahead of Talala, Oklahoma's Zach Chappell.
Practice -- Teams will have a chance to tune up for the Inaugural Cowtown Sprint Nationals with a Thursday night practice session at Cowtown Speedway from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
The weekend's pertinent information follows....
The Series:O'Reilly American Sprint Cars on Tour (ASCoT)
When & Where:Friday, October 10 -- Cowtown Speedway at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, October 11 -- Cowtown Speedway at 7:00 p.m.